Be bear aware

by • May 1, 2014 • FeatureComments (0)191

Bearly paying attention while out on the trail can bring “un-bear-able” consequences. OK.OK, bear puns aside it’s a real issue adventurers have to acknowledge.

It’s true that you must be careful when hiking in Alaska’s backcountry – and even the front country, for that matter. Bears are a real and dangerous threat.
Yet, don’t let your fear of a “bear lurking around every corner” deter your enjoyment of the outdoors. There are no guarantees that you will not see a bear, but the odds are slim. And they can be even more slim if you follow a few precautions. These tips, offered by Alaska State Parks, will help you minimize the chance of a negative bear encounter:

At trailheads, look for posted signs about recent bear activity. Watch ahead for bears or for tracks. Don’t surprise bears. Make plenty of noise when traveling. Hiking in groups is safer than hiking alone.

Know the difference between black and brown bears. Both live in areas where there are state parks. Use more than the fur color for identification. There are cinnamon black bears and black brown bears.

In campgrounds, never leave food out when not in use. Store in your vehicle or a bear-proof locker. The park ranger adage is true: A fed bear is a dead bear.

In the backcountry, choose your campsite carefully. Do not camp near a trail, salmon stream, animal carcass, garbage, or any backcountry metal fire pit (others may have left food odors). Do camp in a tent in an open quiet area where you can see and hear nearby wildlife and where they can see and hear you.

In the backcountry, cook at least 100 feet away from camp and store food, pots, trash, and any other smelly gear well away from camp. Pack out all trash. Do not bury garbage or uneaten food.

If you see a bear that is far away or doesn’t see you turn around and go back, or circle far around. Don’t disturb it.

If you see a bear that is close or it does see you, stay calm. Attacks are rare. Bears may approach or stand on their hind legs to get a better look at you. These are curious, not aggressive, bears. Stand tall, wave your arms, and speak in a loud and low voice. Do no run! Stand your ground or back away slowly and diagonally.

If a bear is charging almost all charges are “bluff charges.” Do not run; it could trigger an instinctive reaction to “chase.” Stand your ground, wave your arms, and speak in a loud, low voice.

If attacked, play dead. Curl up in a ball with your hands laced behind your neck. The fetal position protects your vital organs. Lie still and be silent. Surprised bears usually stop attacking once you are no longer a threat (i.e. “dead”).

You are allowed to carry guns in Alaska State Parks for protection, but most don’t need to. You could also consider carrying pepper spray, a bear deterrent made from the juice of red-hot peppers. This incapacitating spray teaches bears a lesson without permanently maiming them, and is available in sporting goods stores and even grocery stores such as Fred Meyer.

— Alaska State Parks

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